– Norv Turner just one win away from the Super Bowl
– Billy Volek leading a team to the AFC Championship Game
– Eli Manning playing further into a season than Peyton
– Ryan Grant running for over 200 yards in a playoff game. Heck, in any game.
– Terrell Owens sobbing in defense of his quarterback
– The fact a team is still undefeated, and took a back seat to all of these items in terms of intrigue for one weekend.
Needless to say, it was a wild, weird weekend in the NFL playoffs. And it more than made up for what may have been one of the lamest wild card weekends ever. Here’s the game-by-game recap of my random observations.
Chargers vs. Colts
Rarely have I been more confident in the certainty of a team’s victory than I was in the Colts this weekend.
Back when the Colts and Chargers met in San Diego this season, the Bolts nearly choked away all of a 23-point lead against the injury-depleted Colts, who had to play with their JV squad. Playing at home with a nearly full hand against an extremely banged-up Antonio Gates and with the mind of Tony Dungy against Norv Turner, taking the Colts was pretty much a no-brainer. Throw in the factors of what happened during the game — LaDanian Tomlinson and Phillip Rivers going down with injuries — the result was even more of a foregone conclusion.
Yet Billy Volek, Michael Turner and some Nigerian guy from Boise State proved all of us wrong in one of the guttiest playoff performances of all time. I imagine Chargers fans have to put this right next to the Kellen Winslow Game as the standard for all-time franchise performances. Here are a couple things that we learned from this game:
– Norv Turner can coach. I can’t believe that I just typed that. But as hard as everyone has been on Turner over the years, I guess it is finally time to give the man his props. Despite injuries to the most vital players on their offense, the Chargers never deviated from their gameplan. And they showed that they have developed the depth to deal with these situations.
– Karma counts. The Colts fate was sealed at the end of the third quarter, when fans booed a 14-year old girl from New Hampshire who won the national Punt, Pass and Kick competition because she was wearing a Patriots jersey. Believe me, I hate the Pats as much as the next guy. But booing a 14-year old girl? That’s pretty low. Props to her for at least cracking a smile and laughing.
– Phillip Rivers is apparently a punk-ass bitch. I always respected Phillip Rivers as being a mature, God-fearing type. The guy was married before he even graduated college. At that point in time, my longest relationship was three months long. (Now that I’ve graduated college, I’m capable of forming relationships that last as long as six months.)
Yet Rivers was talking shit to Colts fans as he walked off the field and went into the locker room to learn that he wasn’t playing the rest of the game. And he taunted the fans again after the Chargers sealed up the win. Coming off the heels of the Broncos incident, it is clear that Mr. Rivers has a completely different persona when he gets on the field. Fortunately, at least he wouldn’t do anything as classless as making fun of Shawne Merriman’s sack dance. (Yes, that sarcasm is as thick as cream cheese on a bagel, in case you had any doubts).
Cowboys vs. Giants
If Norv Turner could reach a conference championship game, one had to hold out the same hopes for Wade Phillips. But even in a crazy year for the NFL, nothing that freakish was about to happen.
I can’t say that this development was particularly surprising. The Giants were the one road team that I predicted to win this weekend. (I guess I sort of thought the Seahawks had a chance too, but we won’t go into that). For one, it’s pretty difficult to beat a team thrice in one season. Even a Steve Walsh-led Bears team was able to upset the Vikings in the ’94 playoffs. And if you had Jessica Simpson’s jugs in your face, do you really think you’d be focused on football? Right.
Anyway, a couple of observations from this one. First off all, congrats to Eli Manning. This guy gets more crap than anyone not named Rex Grossman. (And given the way he held the Chargers hostage in the draft, perhaps it isn’t unwarranted). But the mark of a champion is the ability to rise up when people are doubting you. Impossibly, he has found a way to make the watch ad that states “Eli Manning is unstoppable, just like this watch” less hilarious.
And Terrell Owens’ post-game sobfest? Something tells me that Jeff Garcia and every person in the Philadelphia Eagles organization was more than a little amused.
Packers vs. Seahawks
When the Packers immediately fell behind 14-0, my inner Bear fan couldn’t help but crack a smile. Not only was Green Bay going to lose twice in a season to the subpar Bears, but they were going to get blown out of Lambeau in the playoffs. There was no better way to make a bitter season worthwhile.
Then, it starts snowing. Heavily. This is what a playoff game is supposed to be. Hmm… wouldn’t it be cool if they had another game at Lambeau next week? The Packers start scoring at will. Brett Favre goes back to his old bag of tricks, throwing underhand passes from his knees. And Ryan Grant! runs for 200 yards, looking like a cagey veteran as he carefully measures his steps past the slipping and sliding Seahawk defense.
Back when the season started, the running game was the Packers one obvious weakness. Now, it has somehow turned into a strength behind Grant. And given the choices remaining in the playoffs, it’s hard for even a Bear fan to root against Favre’s renaissance going all the way to the Super Bowl. Especially if it gets him to retire.
Patriots vs. Jaguars
If there was anyone left in the NFL that had a chance to beat the Patriots, it was the Jaguars. They have a solid defense. Two great running backs. And an underrated quarterback who can move on his feet and doesn’t make mistakes. The tools for controlling the tempo and keeping the Patriots in check were in their hands.
Just not the hands of Dennis Northcutt. Northcutt dropped a crucial third down pass late in the third quarter, forcing the Jags to settle for a field goal that cut the score to 21-17 rather than tying the game. (It seems clear that for Jacksonville to overtake the Colts in the AFC South, wide receiver is the position they should address in the offseason. The Bears’ Bernard Berrian might make a good fit via free agency. Or they could draft a big guy like James Hardy out of Indiana.)
However, despite not punching the ball into the end zone on that possession, the Jags still had a chance to take the momentum in the game. The field goal set up a perfect opportunity for a surprise onside kick. Think about it. In the third quarter, such a move had the potential to catch even Bill Belichick’s best spies off guard.
And if you somehow don’t recover the kick and the Patriots get the ball at your 40-yard line, what difference does it make? They can score from anywhere on the field. Any chance you have to keep the ball out of their hands, you have to take. Here’s hoping Norv Turner checks us out. And Belichick’s spies don’t.